Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made the case that playing offense, not defense, is the best strategy in the war with Russia, even as that nation’s leader, Vladimir Putin, has renewed his threat to deploy nuclear weapons after Ukrainian troops scored a series of military victories in recent weeks.
“Prevention is the basis for lasting peace, the measure to cut short any aggression, the measure to save many more lives than you would save by reacting to something that already happened,” he said live from Ukraine during a talk Tuesday afternoon at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School.
The way to peace is not for Ukraine or its allies to wait to see whether the Kremlin will make good on its “nuclear blackmail” and threats to further annex territory in Ukraine, but to take “preventative” action now to ensure that it does not, he told former U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School, during a discussion about peace and leadership.
Zelensky did not elaborate on what steps he thought would be most effective to achieve that end.
The Ukrainian leader’s stance appears in contrast to the more reactive approach that Biden administration officials signaled this week. Both U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia has been warned about its repeated threats to use nuclear weapons in its invasion of Ukraine, and that if it does so, Blinken said, “the consequences would be horrific.”
Zelensky’s comments come amid growing unrest in Russia, where nearly 200,000 have fled to neighboring Kazakhstan, Georgia, and Finland and protests have broken out since Sept. 21, when Putin announced a call-up of 300,000 civilians to replenish the country’s badly depleted armed forces. Since its attack began Feb. 24, the Russian army has suffered at least 60,000 casualties, according to Western estimates. Nearly 3,000 demonstrators have been arrested so far, according to OVD-Info, a human rights organization tracking political activism in Russia.